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How to Utilize Abandoned Domains for Link Building

by Jon Cooper
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abandoned domains for link buildingA few weeks ago I got an email from a reader, and he had some awesome questions. I thought I’d share them & my answers here on my blog. If you could do me a favor, please leave your thoughts in the comments below! I posted this mainly to spark a conversation.

 

The questions are from Dan Domino:

1. If I found a large number of random abandoned domains, which have existing backlinks (anywhere from a small handful of backlinks to a large backlink profile), which were available to register, and I went ahead and registered them and then redirected them to my website, do you think I’m setting myself up to be penalized by Google in the future?  Ie…if I did this a few hundred times (I have a very smalll number of backlinks at this point).  I realize doing this may only help me if I can find domains w/URLs relating to my keywords.

2. Alternatively – say I took a bunch of abandoned domains, hopefully w/URL’s somewhat keyword related to my site, and put up a quick page relating to my site’s keywords, and then linked to my site.  If I did this a few hundred times, do you think Google would notice and penalize me since it seems like this kind of thing would be easy to detect, since at least a good number of them would have to come from the same domain hosting service (even if I diversified across a few different hosting services), with URL owner info set to ‘private,’ etc.

Here are my answers:

1. A few times is OK, but I wouldn’t recommend “a few hundred times”. Seeing the costs to have a few hundred sites doing this, I just don’t see it being Google-proof (it comes off as manipulative), the best use of these assets (301s lose link power over time), cost effective, or even user friendly (back to the Google part – if they don’t think it’s helpful to users, they won’t like it). If you do have that many link-rich domains, take my advice in answer #2.

2. That’s not as bad, but you have to focus on user friendliness more than anything. Safe is always better than sorry, and Google is getting smarter & smarter each day, so even if you see a few spammers winning right now, it’s just not worthwhile to roll the dice. Here’s what I’d do:

Since the idea I have is a little hard to explain, I’ll show you by creating an example.

Let’s say I found a domain about SEO (seosite.com) that had a ton of links pointing to pages all over the domain. What I would do is set up a few category pages:

  • Link building (seosite.com/link-building)
  • social SEO (seosite.com/social-seo)
  • keyword research (seosite.com/keyword-research)
  • on page SEO (seosite.com/on-page-seo)
  • technical SEO (seosite.com/technical-seo)

The home page (seosite.com) would just be about SEO in general. Find all the links that are pointing to your domain, and 301 each of those pages/posts to the relevant category page. For example, if there are a few links to a post about link prospecting, 301 that to your link building page.

What you need to do next is set up informative articles on each of those category pages. The more content, the better. A good number to aim for is 1,000 words. If you want, outsource the content because its only purpose is for SEO. Instead of adding links only back to your site in the articles, add a few to your other category pages.

What this does is:

1) Makes it more user friendly as opposed to throwing up only one page on the domain and 301ing everything to it (or even 301ing everything on the domain to your homepage).

2) You get more links, because you built 10 different pages.

3) The links are contextual (way better than links that stand alone on a page).

4) Those pages have link power of their own because of internal linking from other category pages.

5) The links pass more relevance (linking the phrase “link building” from a post about link building passes a ton of relevance as opposed to just 301ing it back to your “link building” page).

6) Google doesn’t see this as manipulative (or at least anywhere close to 301ing the whole domain).

Another tip, which sounds much easier, but has less link power, is to instead of 301ing posts/pages to category pages, 301 them to category pages on your own domain. This loses a lot of the benefits above, but if you really do have hundreds of relevant domains, I suggest doing this for the lower quality ones. You should be doing the above strategy every time though for the domains that are aged & full of link juice.

 

So, what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! I can’t wait to hear what you all have to say!

Chris from Roots Web Solutions wrote something awesome in the comments, so I thought I’d add it here! He claims it’s black hat, but I don’t think it’s that manipulative – I think it’s just plain smart!

Abandoned domains do work and being smart means that you can pick them up before they drop.

GoDaddy (boo!) Auctions allows you to buy domains just before they drop as Hippititimus mentioned [in his comment] many domain resellers massively overprice and even fake the Google Toolbar Pagerank on their domains to boost their value.

In GoDaddy auctions you can easily find PR3-5 Domains with a DMOZ backlink, over 4 years old going for as little as $20-50. Some of these sites sell PR5 domains for $300 +!

If you have the SEOMoz toolbar or similar installed its very easy to check the DA/PA and # of backlinks

You can then rebuild the popular pages using the Wayback Machine http://www.archive.org/web/web.php and now you have control of an authority site for the cost of less than $100???

What do you guys think?

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 121 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper+ is an SEO consultant based out of Gainesville, FL who specializes in link building. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter.

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14 Comments
  1. I can see the thought process about this, but for me it would ultimately prove too expensive time-wise for use as a large scale strategy, especially as all the links will devalue and Google will probably find and devalue them.

    Obviously if you happen to have a few decent domains and time available then go for it, but as a tactic I cant help thinking my time is better spent in more valuable activities.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Good point. That’s why I’d say if you really had this amount of domains, it wouldn’t be worth doing this for more than a couple of them (and only the very best of them).

      But how would you get around Google devaluing them? How would you do it Hippititimus?

  2. Stoked SEO says:

    As discussed earlier jon another way to do this for those with small budgets and perhaps no technical knowledge of 301′s is to approach the linking sites individually with some well constructed outreach. We’ve done this a number of times when an abandoned domain pops up and it’s extremely effective.

    Essentially it’s just a case of investigating the abandoned domains, selecting the best links and approaching those sites. Good webmasters are always grateful if you notify them of a dead link and if you can suggest an alternative page on your domain with similar content they very often just swap the links. Not only are they grateful for the notification by suggesting alternative content they don’t even have to think ;-)

    There’s not worry about what G will think about this, or the technicalities of what’s best in terms of 301′s etc. Works great

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I totally agree with taking the broken link building path, but I would honestly only do this for the very best links, because if you own the domain, you own the destination of the links, which essentially means you’ve already got the links.

      And the other problem is this: If the domain is abandoned, and it still has a ton of links pointing to it, then most of those links are coming from websites that are no longer maintained. So when you do try outreach, no one is there to respond (or much less care about a broken link).

      But if you do come across highly reputable websites and find a broken link coming from them, then by all means notify and ask for a replacement link to your main site. But… sometimes this doesn’t work because news site like the NYtimes don’t really care about a broken link on one of their tens of thousands of articles they crank out.

      Thanks for the awesome comment Stoked SEO! I really appreciate it :)

  3. Stoked SEO says:

    Yeah agree if you owned the domain, I’m thinking before you went that far if you were a small business on a budget.

    The other point depends on how long the domain has been abandoned I guess, if its years then you have a point, if its weeks however the linking sites might not be hot on and in that case you’d get a response.

    hmmmm, and now I’m thinking about a proactive way to find abandoned domains….

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Another solid point. It’s all about how long they’ve been abandoned; if it’s just a few weeks, the sites that link might still be very active and easy to get in touch with.

      If you come up with something, let me know! If it’s a great strategy you want to share, I’d be open to letting you write up a guest post. Just an idea :)

      Thanks Stoked SEO!

  4. Neil says:

    Jon, nice post, and nice ideas here. My question is this. If I have several pages with 1000′s of words of content on each, wouldn’t it be better/easier/cheaper to distribute that content around some free web 2.0 resources (squidoo, weebly, wordpress etc) with the same contextual links and just abandon the idea of looking for (and paying for) abandoned domains?

    Or am I looking at this the wrong way? Is the point here to find an abandoned domain with some existing Domain Authority that I’m planning to appropriate by taking the domain over and hijacking the links?

    Do you even think this is remotely a good use of time? (it strikes me as very time intensive, resource heavy and onerous compared to say, writing 5 good 1,000 word guest posts and getting them published.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I’m looking at this from the point of view that I have an abandoned domain with some decent link equity, and I want to get as much of it back to my own website as possible. Web 2.0 can’t compare to aged domains with unique content and lots of inbound links, because if it could, then everyone would be doing Web 2.0 100% of the time.

      I think you’re definitely right on whether or not it’s worth your time. That’s why I said not to do this unless there is some decent equity there. The content shouldn’t be a problem because you can easily outsource it, but if you’re in a competitive, boring niche where social & blogging interaction is at a minimal, getting relevant links is hard to come by, so for some, this actually is a good use of their time.

      It’s all based on your situation. That’s why you would need to make the call if you came across a situation like this of your own.

  5. Neil says:

    OK, so how do you go about quickly identifying an aged, abandoned domain with decent link equity? If you can rapidly build a list and rule the strategy in or out then I agree it could be a good option. How many of these abandoned domains are there out there? And do they cost more because someone has used them before and they’ve built up some inbound links themselves?

    • Jon Cooper says:

      If they’re abandoned, then you can pick them up from a domain registrator for the same price as any other domain.

      In terms on numbers, there really isn’t one. There are probably millions, but most don’t have any link equity for it to be worth it.

      For identifying age, start with whois & the wayback machine. For link equity, OSE will still show links for some of the domains depending on how freshly they were abandoned.

  6. In fairness i’m something of hobby domain trader (full time SEO), and have used abandoned domains before to create niche Adsense or preferably Amazon and Ebay sites (it helps me test SEO strategies is what i tell myself). I can assure you that the link juice from abandoned works to a degree – I mean it’s not a panacea or anything but it helps a new site get a decent foothold. Sometimes such domains are priced ridiculously and not worth it so be careful of the investment.

    You ask how i would do it? If i had a suitable domain i would set it up as suggested by yourself Jon, create an actual website of decent content (at least in an informative way) and use it for links, however without constant playing with and tweaking it wouldn’t last long – even if you saw any benefit (i think it is dubious as to how much benefit an established site would get from the links). Again I’m not sure the climb would be worth the view!!

    Would be kinda interesting to do a case study – might give it a go

    Hippi!

  7. Chris says:

    Please close your sensitive eyes if you are a White Hat SEO

    —————————————————————-
    Abandoned domains do work and being smart means that you can pick them up before they drop.

    GoDaddy (boo!) Auctions allows you to buy domains just before they drop as Hippititimus mentioned above many domain resellers massively overprice and even fake the Google Toolbar Pagerank on their domains to boost their value.

    In GoDaddy auctions you can easily find PR3-5 Domains with a DMOZ backlink, over 4 years old going for as little as $20-50. Some of these sites sell PR5 domains for $300 +!

    If you have the SEOMoz toolbar or similar installed its very easy to check the DA/PA and # of backlinks

    You can then rebuild the popular pages using the Wayback Machine http://www.archive.org/web/web.php and now you have control of an authority site for the cost of less than $100???

    —– White Hatters open your Eyes ———–

    • Jon Cooper says:

      That’s an outstanding action plan Chris! I don’t think that’s black hat at all. IMO there’s nothing wrong with that!

      Will be adding this to the post because it’s so awesome :)

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